Britain failing to tackle allergy epidemic

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LONDON, Sep 27 (Reuters) Allergy has reached epidemic proportions in the UK, but the health service is ill-equipped to deal with the growing problem, a report said.

The House of Lords science and technology committee said a lack of specialist medical clinics, and minimal allergy training, has meant that services for allergy patients lag far behind those of many other Western European countries.

Specialist medical centres should be set up in every strategic health authority to act as ''clusters of expertise'', it recommended and increased training should be given to medical students and GPs.

The committee also said labelling should be improved to avoid the ''vague and defensive'' warnings currently being used which leads to confusion and an unnecessary restriction of choice.

It should be replaced by information that clearly specifies the amount of each allergen contained within the product.

The committee also called on the government to stop advising pregnant women and young children to avoid eating peanuts, warning that the information was out of date and may actually increase the risk of developing peanut allergy.

Peanut allergy in England rose 117 percent between 2001 and 2005, the report said, with an estimated 25,700 people affected.

The committee looked at a series of allergies, including people who suffer reactions from food, hayfever, insect bites, drugs, foods and asthma.

About three million people each year consult their GP with conditions related to allergy, at a cost of up to 311 million pounds.

It is estimated that the rate of people in England suffering from multiple allergic disorders, such as asthma, hayfever, eczema, anaphylaxis or peanut allergy, increased by nearly 50 per cent between 2001 and 2005, to 2.3 million.

The committee identified the need to carry out further research into the underlying causes of the allergy epidemic, such as diet, the role of air quality and other environmental factors.

''There is a lack of evidence-based research which has resulted in poor public information on the everyday factors which allergy sufferers may encounter, such as food and its labelling, housing conditions and methods used by complementary practitioners,'' it said.

The committee's Chairman, Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, said: ''The burden of allergy is borne by the allergic individual on a daily basis, but the social and economic cost extends across the whole nation.'' REUTERS YA PM0844

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